Part 1 out of 7
THE PRICE OF LOVE
I. MONEY IN THE HOUSE
II. LOUIS' DISCOVERY
III. THE FEAST
IV. IN THE NIGHT
V. NEWS OF THE NIGHT
VI. THEORIES OF THE THEFT
VII. THE CINEMA
VIII. END AND BEGINNING
IX. THE MARRIED WOMAN
X. THE CHASM
XI. JULIAN'S DOCUMENT
XII. RUNAWAY HORSES
XIV. THE MARKET
XV. THE CHANGED MAN
XVI. THE LETTER
XVII. IN THE MONASTERY
XVIII. MRS. TAMS'S STRANGE BEHAVIOUR
XIX. RACHEL AND MR. HORROCLEAVE
MONEY IN THE HOUSE
In the evening dimness of old Mrs. Maldon's sitting-room stood the
youthful virgin, Rachel Louisa Fleckring. The prominent fact about
her appearance was that she wore an apron. Not one of those
white, waist-tied aprons, with or without bibs, worn proudly,
uncompromisingly, by a previous generation of unaspiring housewives
and housegirls! But an immense blue pinafore-apron, covering the whole
front of the figure except the head, hands, and toes. Its virtues were
that it fully protected the most fragile frock against all the perils
of the kitchen; and that it could be slipped on or off in one
second, without any manipulation of tapes, pins, or buttons and
buttonholes--for it had no fastenings of any sort and merely yawned
behind. In one second the drudge could be transformed into the elegant
infanta of boudoirs, and _vice versa_. To suit the coquetry of
the age the pinafore was enriched with certain flouncings, which,
however, only intensified its unshapen ugliness.
On a plain, middle-aged woman such a pinafore would have been
intolerable to the sensitive eye. But on Rachel it simply had
a piquant and perverse air, because she was young, with the
incomparable, the unique charm of comely adolescence; it simply
excited the imagination to conceive the exquisite treasures of contour
and tint and texture which it veiled. Do not infer that Rachel was
a coquette. Although comely, she was homely--a "downright" girl,
scorning and hating all manner of pretentiousness. She had a fine best
dress, and when she put it on everybody knew that it was her best; a
stranger would have known. Whereas of a coquette none but her intimate
companions can say whether she is wearing best or second-best on a
given high occasion. Rachel used the pinafore-apron only with her best
dress, and her reason for doing so was the sound, sensible reason that
it was the usual and proper thing to do.
She opened a drawer of the new Sheraton sideboard, and took from it
a metal tube that imitated brass, about a foot long and an inch
in diameter, covered with black lettering. This tube, when she
had removed its top, showed a number of thin wax tapers in various
colours. She chose one, lit it neatly at the red fire, and then,
standing on a footstool in the middle of the room, stretched all her
body and limbs upward in order to reach the gas. If the tap had been
half an inch higher or herself half an inch shorter, she would have
had to stand on a chair instead of a footstool; and the chair would
have had to be brought out of the kitchen and carried back again. But
Heaven had watched over this detail. The gas-fitting consisted of a
flexible pipe, resembling a thick black cord, and swinging at the
end of it a specimen of that wonderful and blessed contrivance, the
inverted incandescent mantle within a porcelain globe: the whole
recently adopted by Mrs. Maldon as the dangerous final word of modern
invention. It was safer to ignite the gas from the orifice at the
top of the globe; but even so there was always a mild disconcerting
explosion, followed by a few moments' uncertainty as to whether or not
the gas had "lighted properly."
When the deed was accomplished and the room suddenly bright with soft
illumination, Mrs. Maldon murmured--
She was sitting in her arm-chair by the glitteringly set table, which,
instead of being in the centre of the floor under the gas, had a place
near the bow-window--advantageous in the murky daytime of the Five
Towns, and inconvenient at night. The table might well have been
shifted at night to a better position in regard to the gas. But it
never was. Somehow for Mrs. Maldon the carpet was solid concrete, and
the legs of the table immovably embedded therein.
Rachel, gentle-footed, kicked the footstool away to its lair under the
table, and simultaneously extinguished the taper, which she dropped
with a scarce audible click into a vase on the mantelpiece. Then she
put the cover on the tube with another faintest click, restored the
tube to its drawer with a rather louder click, and finally, with a
click still louder, pushed the drawer home. All these slight sounds
were familiar to Mrs. Maldon; they were part of her regular night
life, part of an unconsciously loved ritual, and they contributed in
their degree to her placid happiness.
"Now the blinds, my dear!" said she.
The exhortation was ill-considered, and Rachel controlled a gesture of
amicable impatience. For she had not paused after closing the drawer;
she was already on her way across the room to the window when Mrs.
Maldon said, "Now the blinds, my dear!" The fact was that Mrs. Maldon
measured the time between the lighting of gas and the drawing down of
blinds by tenths of a second--such was her fear lest in that sinister
interval the whole prying town might magically gather in the street
outside and peer into the secrets of her inculpable existence.
When the blinds and curtains had been arranged for privacy, Mrs.
Maldon sighed securely and picked up her crocheting. Rachel rested her
hands on the table, which was laid for a supper for four, and asked in
a firm, frank voice whether there was anything else.
"Because, if not," Rachel added, "I'll just take off my pinafore and
wash my hands."
Mrs. Maldon looked up benevolently and nodded in quick agreement.
It was such apparently trifling gestures, eager and generous, that
endeared the old lady to Rachel, giving her the priceless sensation
of being esteemed and beloved. Her gaze lingered on her aged employer
with affection and with profound respect. Mrs. Maldon made a striking,
tall, slim figure, sitting erect in tight black, with the right side
of her long, prominent nose in the full gaslight and the other heavily
shadowed. Her hair was absolutely black at over seventy; her eyes were
black and glowing, and she could read and do coarse crocheting
without spectacles. All her skin, especially round about the eyes, was
yellowish brown and very deeply wrinkled indeed; a decrepit, senile
skin, which seemed to contradict the youth of her pose and her glance.
The cast of her features was benign. She had passed through desolating
and violent experiences, and then through a long, long period of
withdrawn tranquillity; and from end to end of her life she had
consistently thought the best of all men, refusing to recognize evil
and assuming the existence of good. Every one of the millions of her
kind thoughts had helped to mould the expression of her countenance.
The expression was definite now, fixed, intensely characteristic after
so many decades, and wherever it was seen it gave pleasure and by
its enchantment created goodness and goodwill--even out of their
opposites. Such was the life-work of Mrs. Maldon.
Her eyes embraced the whole room. They did not, as the phrase is,
"beam" approval; for the act of beaming involves a sort of ecstasy,
and Mrs. Maldon was too dignified for ecstasy. But they displayed a
mild and proud contentment as she said--
"I'm sure it's all very nice."
It was. The table crowded with porcelain, crystal, silver, and
flowers, and every object upon it casting a familiar curved shadow on
the whiteness of the damask toward the window! The fresh crimson and
blues of the everlasting Turkey carpet (Turkey carpet being the _ne
plus ultra_ of carpetry in the Five Towns, when that carpet was
bought, just as sealskin was the _ne plus ultra_ of all furs)!
The silken-polished sideboard, strange to the company, but worthy
of it, and exhibiting a due sense of its high destiny! The sombre
bookcase and corner cupboard, darkly glittering! The Chesterfield
sofa, broad, accepting, acquiescent! The flashing brass fender
and copper scuttle! The comfortably reddish walls, with their
pictures--like limpets on the face of precipices! The new-whitened
ceiling! In the midst the incandescent lamp that hung like the moon
in heaven!... And then the young, sturdy girl, standing over the
old woman and breathing out the very breath of life, vitalizing
everything, rejuvenating the old woman!
Mrs. Maldon's sitting-room had a considerable renown among her
acquaintance, not only for its peculiar charm, which combined and
reconciled the tastes of two very different generations, but also for
its radiant cleanness. There are many clean houses in the Five Towns,
using the adjective in the relative sense in which the Five Towns is
forced by chimneys to use it. But Mrs. Maldon's sitting-room (save for
the white window-curtains, which had to accept the common grey fate of
white window-curtains in the district) was clean in the country-side
sense, almost in the Dutch sense. The challenge of its cleanness
gleamed on every polished surface, victorious in the unending battle
against the horrible contagion of foul industries. Mrs. Maldon's
friends would assert that the state of that sitting-room "passed"
them, or "fair passed" them, and she would receive their ever-amazed
compliments with modesty. But behind her benevolent depreciation she
would be blandly saying to herself: "Yes, I'm scarcely surprised it
passes you--seeing the way you housewives let things go on here."
The word "here" would be faintly emphasized in her mind, as no native
would have emphasized it.
Rachel shared the general estimate of the sitting-room. She
appreciated its charm, and admitted to herself that her first vision
of it, rather less than a month before, had indeed given her a new and
startling ideal of cleanliness. On that occasion it had been evident,
from Mrs. Maldon's physical exhaustion, that the housemistress had
made an enormous personal effort to _dazzle_ and inspire her new
"lady companion," which effort, though detected and perhaps scorned by
Rachel, had nevertheless succeeded in its aim. With a certain presence
of mind Rachel had feigned to remark nothing miraculous in the
condition of the room. Appropriating the new ideal instantly, she
had on the first morning of her service "turned out" the room before
breakfast, well knowing that it must have been turned out on the
previous day. Dumbfounded for a few moments, Mrs. Maldon had at length
said, in her sweet and cordial benevolence, "I'm glad to see we think
alike about cleanliness." And Rachel had replied with an air at once
deferential, sweet, and yet casual, "Oh, of course, Mrs. Maldon!" Then
they measured one another in a silent exchange. Mrs. Maldon was aware
that she had by chance discovered a pearl--yes, a treasure beyond
pearls. And Rachel, too, divined the high value of her employer, and
felt within the stirrings of a passionate loyalty to her.
And yet, during the three weeks and a half of their joint existence,
Rachel's estimate of Mrs. Maldon had undergone certain subtle
At first, somewhat overawed, Rachel had seen in her employer the Mrs.
Maldon of the town's legend, which legend had travelled to Rachel
as far as Knype, whence she sprang. That is to say, one of the
great ladies of Bursley, ranking in the popular regard with
Mrs. Clayton-Vernon, the leader of society, Mrs. Sutton, the
philanthropist, and Mrs. Hamps, the powerful religious bully. She had
been impressed by her height (Rachel herself being no lamp-post), her
carriage, her superlative dignity, her benevolence of thought, and
above all by her aristocratic Southern accent. After eight-and-forty
years of the Five Towns, Mrs. Maldon had still kept most of that
Southern accent--so intimidating to the rough, broad talkers of the
district, who take revenge by mocking it among themselves, but for
whom it will always possess the thrilling prestige of high life.
And then day by day Rachel had discovered that great ladies are, after
all, human creatures, strangely resembling other human creatures. And
Mrs. Maldon slowly became for her an old woman of seventy-two,
with unquestionably wondrous hair, but failing in strength and in
faculties; and it grew merely pathetic to Rachel that Mrs. Maldon
should force herself always to sit straight upright. As for Mrs.
Maldon's charitableness, Rachel could not deny that she refused to
think evil, and yet it was plain that at bottom Mrs. Maldon was not
much deceived about people: in which apparent inconsistency there hid
a slight disturbing suggestion of falseness that mysteriously fretted
the downright Rachel.
Again, beneath Mrs. Maldon's modesty concerning the merits of her
sitting-room Rachael soon fancied that she could detect traces of an
ingenuous and possibly senile "house-pride," which did more than fret
the lady companion; it faintly offended her. That one should be proud
of a possession or of an achievement was admissible, but that one
should fail to conceal the pride absolutely was to Rachel, with her
Five Towns character, a sign of weakness, a sign of the soft South.
Lastly, Mrs. Maldon had, it transpired, her "ways"; for example, in
the matter of blinds and in the matter of tapers. She would actually
insist on the gas being lighted with a taper; a paper spill, which was
just as good and better, seemed to ruffle her benign placidity: and
she was funnily economical with matches. Rachel had never seen a taper
before, and could not conceive where the old lady managed to buy the
In short, with admiration almost undiminished, and with a rapidly
growing love and loyalty, Rachel had arrived at the point of feeling
glad that she, a mature, capable, sagacious, and strong woman, was
there to watch over the last years of the waning and somewhat peculiar
Mrs. Maldon did not see the situation from quite the same angle. She
did not, for example, consider herself to be in the least peculiar,
but, on the contrary, a very normal woman. She had always used tapers;
she could remember the period when every one used tapers. In her
view tapers were far more genteel and less dangerous than the untidy,
flaring spill, which she abhorred as a vulgarity. As for matches,
frankly it would not have occurred to her to waste a match when fire
was available. In the matter of her sharp insistence on drawn blinds
at night, domestic privacy seemed to be one of the fundamental
decencies of life--simply that! And as for house-pride, she considered
that she locked away her fervent feeling for her parlour in a manner
marvellous and complete.
No one could or ever would guess the depth of her attachment to that
sitting-room, nor the extent to which it engrossed her emotional life.
And yet she had only occupied the house for fourteen years out of the
forty-five years of her widowhood, and the furniture had at intervals
been renewed (for Mrs. Maldon would on no account permit herself to
be old-fashioned). Indeed, she had had five different sitting-rooms in
five different houses since her husband's death. No matter. They were
all the same sitting-room, all rendered identical by the mysterious
force of her dreamy meditations on the past. And, moreover, sundry
important articles had remained constant to preserve unbroken the
chain that linked her to her youth. The table which Rachel had so
nicely laid was the table at which Mrs. Maldon had taken her first
meal as mistress of a house. Her husband had carved mutton at it, and
grumbled about the consistency of toast; her children had spilt jam on
its cloth. And when on Sunday nights she wound up the bracket-clock on
the mantelpiece, she could see and hear a handsome young man in a long
frock-coat and a large shirt-front and a very thin black tie winding
it up too--her husband--on Sunday nights. And she could simultaneously
see another handsome young man winding it up--her son.
Her pictures were admired.
"Your son painted this water-colour, did he not, Mrs. Maldon?"
"Yes, my son Athelstan."
"How gifted he must have been!"
"Yes, the best judges say he showed very remarkable promise. It's
fading, I fear. I ought to cover it up, but somehow I can't fancy
covering it up--"
The hand that had so remarkably promised had lain mouldering for a
quarter of a century. Mrs. Maldon sometimes saw it, fleshless, on a
cage-like skeleton in the dark grave. The next moment she would see
herself tending its chilblains.
And if she was not peculiar, neither was she waning. No!
Seventy-two--but not truly old! How could she be truly old when she
could see, hear, walk a mile without stopping, eat anything whatever,
and dress herself unaided? And that hair of hers! Often she was still
a young wife, or a young widow. She was not preparing for death; she
had prepared for death in the seventies. She expected to live on
in calm satisfaction through indefinite decades. She savoured life
pleasantly, for its daily security was impregnable. She had forgotten
When she looked up at Rachel and benevolently nodded to her, she saw
a girl of line character, absolutely trustworthy, very devoted, very
industrious, very capable, intelligent, cheerful--in fact, a splendid
girl, a girl to be enthusiastic about! But such a mere girl! A girl
with so much to learn! So pathetically young and inexperienced
and positive and sure of herself! The looseness of her limbs, the
unconscious abrupt freedom of her gestures, the waviness of her auburn
hair, the candour of her glance, the warmth of her indignation against
injustice and dishonesty, the capricious and sensitive flowings of
blood to her smooth cheeks, the ridiculous wise compressings of
her lips, the rise and fall of her rich and innocent bosom--these
phenomena touched Mrs. Maldon and occasionally made her want to cry.
Thought she: "_I_ was never so young as that at twenty-two! At
twenty-two I had had Mary!" The possibility that in spite of having
had Mary (who would now have been fifty, but for death) she had as a
fact been approximately as young as that at twenty-two did not ever
present itself to the waning and peculiar old lady. She was glad that
she, a mature and profoundly experienced woman, in full possession
of all her faculties, was there to watch over the development of the
lovable, affectionate, and impulsive child.
"Oh! Here's the paper, Mrs. Maldon," said Rachel, as, turning away to
leave the room, she caught sight of the extra special edition of
the _Signal_, which lay a pale green on the dark green of the
Mrs. Maldon answered placidly--
"When did you bring it in? I never heard the boy come. But my
hearing's not quite what it used to be, that's true. Open it for me,
my dear. I can't stretch my arms as I used to."
She was one of the few women in the Five Towns who deigned to read
a newspaper regularly, and one of the still fewer who would lead the
miscellaneous conversation of drawing-rooms away from domestic chatter
and discussions of individualities, to political and municipal topics
and even toward general ideas. She seldom did more than mention a
topic and then express a hope for the best, or explain that this
phenomenon was "such a pity," or that phenomenon "such a good thing,"
or that about another phenomenon "one really didn't know what to
think." But these remarks sufficed to class her apart among her sex as
"a very up-to-date old lady, with a broad outlook upon the world,"
and to inspire sundry other ladies with a fearful respect for her
masculine intellect and judgment. She was aware of her superiority,
and had a certain kind disdain for the increasing number of women
who took in a daily picture-paper, and who, having dawdled over its
illustrations after breakfast, spoke of what they had seen in the
"newspaper." She would not allow that a picture-paper was a newspaper.
Rachel stood in the empty space under the gas. Her arms were stretched
out and slightly upward as she held the _Signal_ wide open and
glanced at the newspaper, frowning. The light fell full on her coppery
hair. Her balanced body, though masked in front by the perpendicular
fall of the apron as she bent somewhat forward, was nevertheless the
image of potential vivacity and energy; it seemed almost to vibrate
with its own consciousness of physical pride.
Left alone, Rachel would never have opened a newspaper, at any rate
for the news. Until she knew Mrs. Maldon she had never seen a woman
read a newspaper for aught except the advertisements relating to
situations, houses, and pleasures. But, much more than she imagined,
she was greatly under the influence of Mrs. Maldon. Mrs. Maldon made
a nightly solemnity of the newspaper, and Rachel naturally soon
persuaded herself that it was a fine and a superior thing to read the
newspaper--a proof of unusual intelligence. Moreover, just as she
felt bound to show Mrs. Maldon that her notion of cleanliness was as
advanced as anybody's, so she felt bound to indicate, by an appearance
of casualness, that for her to read the paper was the most customary
thing in the world. Of course she read the paper! And that she should
calmly look at it herself before handing it to her mistress proved
that she had already established a very secure position in the house.
She said, her eyes following the lines, and her feet moving in the
direction of Mrs. Maldon--"Those burglaries are still going on ...
"Oh, dear, dear!" murmured Mrs. Maldon, as Rachel spread the newspaper
lightly over the tea-tray and its contents. "Oh, dear, dear! I do
hope the police will catch some one soon. I'm sure they're doing their
best, but really--!"
Rachel bent with confident intimacy over the old lady's shoulder, and
they read the burglary column together, Rachel interrupting herself
for an instant to pick up Mrs. Maldon's ball of black wool which had
slipped to the floor. The _Signal_ reporter had omitted none of
the classic _cliches_ proper to the subject, and such words
and phrases as "jemmy," "effected an entrance," "the servant, now
thoroughly alarmed," "stealthy footsteps," "escaped with their booty,"
seriously disquieted both of the women--caused a sudden sensation of
sinking in the region of the heart. Yet neither would put the secret
fear into speech, for each by instinct felt that a fear once uttered
is strengthened and made more real. Living solitary and unprotected
by male sinews, in a house which, though it did not stand alone, was
somewhat withdrawn from the town, they knew themselves the ideal prey
of conventional burglars with masks, dark lanterns, revolvers, and
jemmies. They were grouped together like some symbolic sculpture, and
with all their fortitude and common sense they still in unconscious
attitude expressed the helpless and resigned fatalism of their sex
before certain menaces of bodily danger, the thrilled, expectant
submission of women in a city about to be sacked.
Nothing could save them if the peril entered the house. But they would
not say aloud: "Suppose they came _here_! How terrible!" They
would not even whisper the slightest apprehension. They just briefly
discussed the matter with a fine air of indifferent aloofness,
remaining calm while the brick walls and the social system which
defended that bright and delicate parlour from the dark, savage
universe without seemed to crack and shiver.
Mrs. Maldon, suddenly noticing that one blind was half an inch
short of the bottom of the window, rose nervously and pulled it down
"Why didn't you ask me to do that?" said Rachel, thinking what a
fidgety person the old lady was.
Mrs. Maldon replied--"It's all right, my dear. Did you fasten the
window on the upstairs landing?"
"As if burglars would try to get in by an upstairs window--and on
the street!" thought Rachel, pityingly impatient. "However, it's her
house, and I'm paid to do what I'm told," she added to herself, very
sensibly. Then she said, aloud, in a soothing tone--
"No, I didn't. But I will do it."
She moved towards the door, and at the same moment a knock on the
front door sent a vibration through the whole house. Nearly all
knocks on the front door shook the house; and further, burglars do
not generally knock as a preliminary to effecting an entrance.
Nevertheless, both women started--and were ashamed of starting.
"Surely he's rather early!" said Mrs. Maldon with an exaggerated
And Rachel, with a similar lack of conviction in her calm gait, went
audaciously forth into the dark lobby.
On the glass panels of the front door the street lamp threw a faint,
distorted shadow of a bowler hat, two rather protruding ears, and
a pair of long, outspreading whiskers whose ends merged into broad
shoulders. Any one familiar with the streets of Bursley would have
instantly divined that Councillor Thomas Batchgrew stood between the
gas-lamp and the front door. And even Rachel, whose acquaintance
with Bursley was still slight, at once recognized the outlines of the
figure. She had seen Councillor Batchgrew one day conversing with Mrs.
Maldon in Moorthorne Road, and she knew that he bore to Mrs. Maldon
the vague but imposing relation of "trustee."
There are many--indeed perhaps too many--remarkable men in the Five
Towns. Thomas Batchgrew was one of them. He had begun life as a small
plumber in Bursley market-place, living behind and above the shop, and
begetting a considerable family, which exercised itself in the back
yard among empty and full turpentine-cans. The original premises
survived, as a branch establishment, and Batchgrew's latest-married
grandson condescended to reside on the first floor, and to keep a
motor-car and a tri-car in the back yard, now roofed over (in a manner
not strictly conforming to the building by-laws of the borough).
All Batchgrew's sons and daughters were married, and several of his
grandchildren also. And all his children, and more than one of the
grandchildren, kept motor-cars. Not a month passed but some Batchgrew,
or some Batchgrew's husband or child, bought a motor-car, or sold one,
or exchanged a small one for a larger one, or had an accident, or
was gloriously fined in some distant part of the country for illegal
driving. Nearly all of them had spacious detached houses, with gardens
and gardeners, and patent slow-combustion grates, and porcelain
bathrooms comprising every appliance for luxurious splashing. And,
with the exception of one son who had been assisted to Valparaiso in
order that he might there seek death in the tankard without outraging
the family, they were all teetotallers--because the old man, "old
Jack," was a teetotaller. The family pyramid was based firm on the
old man. The numerous relatives held closely together like an alien
oligarchical caste in a conquered country. If they ever did quarrel,
it must have been in private.
The principal seat of business--electrical apparatus, heating
apparatus, and decorating and plumbing on a grandiose scale--in
Hanbridge, had over its immense windows the sign: "John Batchgrew
& Sons." The sign might well have read: "John Batchgrew & Sons,
Daughters, Daughters-in-law, Sons-in-law, Grandchildren, and
Great-grandchildren." The Batchgrew partners were always tendering
for, and often winning, some big contract or other for heating
and lighting and embellishing a public building or a mansion or a
manufactory. (They by no means confined their activities to the Five
Towns, having an address in London--and another in Valparaiso.) And
small private customers were ever complaining of the inaccuracy
of their accounts for small jobs. People who, in the age of Queen
Victoria's earlier widowhood, had sent for Batchgrew to repair a burst
spout, still by force of habit sent for Batchgrew to repair a burst
spout, and still had to "call at Batchgrew's" about mistakes in the
bills, which mistakes, after much argument and asseveration, were
occasionally put right. In spite of their prodigious expenditures, and
of a certain failure on the part of the public to understand "where
all the money came from," the financial soundness of the Batchgrews
was never questioned. In discussing the Batchgrews no bank-manager and
no lawyer had ever by an intonation or a movement of the eyelid hinted
that earthquakes had occurred before in the history of the world and
might occur again.
And yet old Batchgrew--admittedly the cleverest of the lot,
save possibly the Valparaiso soaker--could not be said to attend
assiduously to business. He scarcely averaged two hours a day on
the premises at Hanbridge. Indeed the staff there had a sense of
the unusual, inciting to unusual energy and devotion, when word went
round: "Guv'nor's in the office with Mr. John." The Councillor was
always extremely busy with something other than his main enterprise.
It was now reported, for example, that he was clearing vast sums out
of picture-palaces in Wigan and Warrington. Also he was a religionist,
being Chairman of the local Church of England Village Mission Fund.
And he was a politician, powerful in municipal affairs. And he was a
reformer, who believed that by abolishing beer he could abolish the
poverty of the poor--and acted accordingly. And lastly he liked to
Everybody knew by sight his flying white whiskers and protruding ears.
And he himself was well aware of the steady advertising value of
those whiskers--of always being recognizable half a mile off. He met
everybody unflinchingly, for he felt that he was invulnerable at all
points and sure of a magnificent obituary. He was invariably treated
with marked deference and respect. But he was not an honest man. He
knew it. All his family knew it. In business everybody knew it except
a few nincompoops. Scarcely any one trusted him. The peculiar fashion
in which, when he was not present, people "old Jacked" him--this alone
was enough to condemn a man of his years. Lastly, everybody knew that
most of the Batchgrew family was of a piece with its head.
Now Rachel had formed a prejudice against old Batchgrew. She had
formed it, immutably, in a single second of time. One glance at him
in the street--and she had tried and condemned him, according to
the summary justice of youth. She was in that stage of plenary and
unhesitating wisdom when one not only can, but one must, divide the
whole human race sharply into two categories, the sheep and the goats;
and she had sentenced old Batchgrew to a place on the extreme left.
It happened that she knew nothing against him. But she did not require
evidence. She simply did "not like _that man_"--(she italicized
the end of the phrase bitingly to herself)--and there was no appeal
against the verdict. Angels could not have successfully interceded
for him in the courts of her mind. He never guessed, in his aged
self-sufficiency, that his case was hopeless with Rachel, nor even
that the child had dared to have any opinion about him at all.
She was about to slip off the pinafore-apron and drop it on to the
oak chest that stood in the lobby. But she thought with defiance: "Why
should I take my pinafore off for him? I won't. He shan't see my nice
frock. Let him see my pinafore. I am an independent woman, earning my
own living, and why should I be ashamed of my pinafore? My pinafore is
good enough for him!" She also thought: "Let him wait!" and went off
into the kitchen to get the modern appliance of the match for lighting
the gas in the lobby. When she had lighted the gas she opened the
front door with audacious but nervous deliberation, and the famous
character impatiently walked straight in. He wore prominent loose
black kid gloves and a thin black overcoat.
Looking coolly at her, he said--
"So you're the new lady companion, young miss! Well, I've heard rare
accounts on ye--rare accounts on ye! Missis is in, I reckon?"
His voice was extremely low, rich, and heavy. It descended on the
silence like a thick lubricating oil that only reluctantly abandons
the curves in which it falls.
And Rachel answered, faintly, tremulously--"Yes."
No longer was she the independent woman, censorious and scornful, but
a silly, timid little thing. Though she condemned herself savagely for
school-girlishness, she could do nothing to arrest the swift change in
her. The fact was, she was abashed, partly by the legendary importance
of the renowned Batchgrew, but more by his physical presence. His
mere presence was always disturbing; for when he supervened into
an environment he had always the air of an animal on a voyage of
profitable discovery. His nose was an adventurous, sniffing nose, a
true nose, which exercised the original and proper functions of a nose
noisily. His limbs were restless, his boots like hoofs. His eyes were
as restless as his limbs, and seemed ever to be seeking for something
upon which they could definitely alight, and not finding it. He
performed eructations with the disarming naturalness of a baby. He was
tall but not stout, and yet he filled the lobby; he was the sole fact
in the lobby, and it was as though Rachel had to crush herself against
the wall in order to make room for him.
His glance at Rachel now became inquisitive, calculating, It seemed to
be saying: "One day I may be able to make use of this piece of goods."
But there was a certain careless good-humour in it, too. What he saw
was a naive young maid, with agreeable features, and a fine, fresh
complexion, and rather reddish hair. (He did not approve of the
colour of the hair.) He found pleasure in regarding her, and in the
perception that he had abashed her. Yes, he liked to see her timid and
downcast before him. He was an old man, but like most old men--such as
statesmen--who have lived constantly at the full pressure of following
their noses, he was also a young man. He creaked, but he was not
"Is it Mr. Batchgrew?" Rachel softly murmured the unnecessary
question, with one hand on the knob ready to open the sitting-room
He had flopped his stiff, flat-topped felt hat on the oak chest, and
was taking off his overcoat. He paused and, lifting his chin--and his
incredible white whiskers with it--gazed at Rachel almost steadily for
a couple of seconds.
"It is," he said, as it were challengingly--"it is, young miss."
Then he finished removing his overcoat and thrust it roughly down on
Rachel blushed as she modestly turned the knob and pushed the door so
that he might pass in front of her.
"Here's Mr. Batchgrew, Mrs. Maldon," she announced, feebly
endeavouring to raise and clear her voice.
"Bless us!" The astonished exclamation of Mrs. Maldon was heard.
And Councillor Batchgrew, with his crimson shiny face, and the
vermilion rims round his unsteady eyes, and his elephant ears, and
the absurd streaming of his white whiskers, and his multitudinous
noisiness, and his black kid gloves, strode half theatrically past
To Rachel he was an object odious, almost obscene. In truth, she
had little mercy on old men in general, who as a class struck her as
fussy, ridiculous, and repulsive. And beyond all the old men she had
ever seen, she disliked Councillor Batchgrew. And about Councillor
Batchgrew what she most detested was, perhaps strangely, his loose,
wrinkled black kid gloves. They were ordinary, harmless black kid
gloves, but she counted them against him as a supreme offence.
"Conceited, self-conscious, horrid old brute!" she thought, discreetly
drawing the door to, and then going into the kitchen. "He's interested
in nothing and nobody but himself." She felt protective towards Mrs.
Maldon, that simpleton who apparently could not see through a John
Batchgrew!... So Mrs. Maldon had been giving him good accounts of the
new lady companion, had she!
"Well, Lizzie Maldon," said Councillor Batchgrew as he crossed the
sitting-room, "how d'ye find yourself?... Sings!" he went on, taking
Mrs. Maldon's hand with a certain negligence and at the same time
fixing an unfriendly eye on the gas.
Mrs. Maldon had risen to welcome him with the punctilious warmth due
to an old gentleman, a trustee, and a notability. She told him as
to her own health and inquired about his. But he ignored her smooth
utterances, in the ardour of following his nose.
"Sings worse than ever! Very unhealthy too! Haven't I told ye and told
ye? You ought to let me put electricity in for you. It isn't as if it
wasn't your own house.... Pay ye! Pay ye over and over again!"
He sat down in a chair by the table, drew off his loose black gloves,
and after letting them hover irresolutely over the encumbered table,
deposited them for safety in the china slop-basin.
"I dare say you're quite right," said Mrs. Maldon with grave urbanity.
"But really gas suits me very well. And you know the gas-manager
complains so much about the competition of electricity. Truly it does
seem unfair, doesn't it, as they both belong to the town! If I gave
up gas for electricity I don't think I could look the poor man in the
face at church. And all these changes cost money! How is dear Enid?"
Mr. Batchgrew had now stretched out his legs and crossed one over the
other; and he was twisting his thumbs on his diaphragm.
"Enid? Oh! Enid! Well, I did hear she's able to nurse the child
at last." He spoke of his grand-daughter-in-law as of one among a
multiplicity of women about whose condition vague rumours reached him
Mrs. Maldon breathed fervently--"I'm so thankful! What a blessing
that is, isn't it?"
"As for costing money, Elizabeth," Mr. Batchgrew proceeded, "you'll
be all right now for money." He paused, sat up straight with puffings,
and leaned sideways against the table. Then he said, half fiercely--
"I've settled up th' Brougham Street mortgage."
"You don't say so!" Mrs. Maldon was startled.
"That's what I stepped in for."
Mrs. Maldon feebly murmured, with obvious emotion--
"You can't imagine what a relief it is to me!" Tears shone in her
dark, mild eyes.
"Look ye!" exclaimed the trustee curtly.
He drew from his breast pocket a bank envelope of linen, and then,
glancing at the table, pushed cups and saucers abruptly away to make a
clear space on the white cloth. The newspaper slipped rustling to the
floor on the side near the window. Already his gloves were abominable
in the slop-basin, and now with a single gesture he had destroyed the
symmetry of the set table. Mrs. Maldon with surpassing patience smiled
sweetly, and assured herself that Mr. Batchgrew could not help it. He
was a coarse male creature at large in a room highly feminized. It was
his habit thus to pass through orderly interiors, distributing havoc,
like a rough soldier. You might almost hear a sword clanking in the
"Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty," he began in his heavily
rolling voice to count out one by one a bundle of notes which he had
taken from the envelope. He generously licked his thick, curved-back
thumb for the separating of the notes, and made each note sharply
click, in the manner of a bank cashier, to prove to himself that it
was not two notes stuck together. "... Five-seventy, five-eighty,
five-ninety, six hundred. These are all tens. Now the fives: Five,
ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five." He counted up to three hundred and
sixty-five. "That's nine-sixty-five altogether. The odd sixty-five's
arrear of interest. I'm investing nine hundred again to-morrow, and
th' interest on th' new investment is to start from th' first o' this
month. So instead of being out o'pocket, you'll be in pocket, missis."
The notes lay in two irregular filmy heaps on the table.
Having carefully returned the empty envelope to his pocket, Mr.
Batchgrew sat back, triumphant, and his eye met the delighted yet
disturbed eye of Mrs. Maldon, and then wavered and dodged.
Mr. Batchgrew with all his romantic qualities, lacked any perception
of the noble and beautiful in life, and it could be positively
asserted that his estimate of Mrs. Maldon was chiefly disdainful. But
of Mrs. Maldon's secret opinion about John Batchgrew nothing could be
affirmed with certainty. Nobody knew it or ever would know it. I doubt
whether Mrs. Maldon had whispered it even to herself. In youth he
had been the very intimate friend of her husband. Which fact would
scarcely tally with Mrs. Maldon's memory of her husband as the most
upright and perspicacious of men--unless on the assumption that John
Batchgrew's real characteristics had not properly revealed themselves
until after his crony's death; this assumption was perhaps admissible.
Mrs. Maldon invariably spoke of John Batchgrew with respect and
admiration. She probably had perfect confidence in him as a trustee,
and such confidence was justified, for the Councillor knew as well
as anybody in what fields rectitude was a remunerative virtue, and in
what fields it was not.
Indeed, as a trustee his sense of honour and of duty was so nice that
in order to save his ward from loss in connection with a depreciating
mortgage security, he had invented, as a Town Councillor, the
"Improvement" known as the "Brougham Street Scheme." If this was not
said outright, it was hinted. At any rate, the idea was fairly current
that had not Councillor Batchgrew been interested in Brougham Street
property, the Brougham Street Scheme, involving the compulsory
purchase of some of that property at the handsome price naturally
expected from the munificence of corporations, would never have come
Mrs. Maldon knew of the existence of the idea, which had been
obscurely referred to by a licensed victualler (inimically prejudiced
against the teetotaller in Mr. Batchgrew) at a Council meeting
reported in the _Signal_. And it was precisely this knowledge
which had imparted to her glance the peculiar disturbed quality that
had caused Mr. Batchgrew to waver and dodge.
The occasion demanded the exercise of unflinching common sense, and
Mrs. Maldon was equal to it. She very wisely decided that she ought
not to concern herself, and could not concern herself, with an aspect
of the matter which concerned her trustee alone. And therefore she
gave her heart entirely up to an intense gladness at the integral
recovery of the mortgage money.
For despite her faith in the efficiency of her trustee, Mrs. Maldon
would worry about finance; she would yield to an exquisitely painful
dread lest "anything should happen"--happen, that is, to prevent her
from dying in the comfortable and dignified state in which she had
lived. Her income was not large--a little under three hundred pounds
a year--but with care it sufficed for her own wants, and for gifts,
subscriptions, and an occasional carriage. There would have been a
small margin but for the constant rise in prices. As it was, there was
no permanent margin. And to have cut off a single annual subscription,
or lessened a single customary gift, would have mortally wounded her
pride. The gradual declension of property values in Brougham Street
had been a danger that each year grew more menacing. The moment had
long ago come when the whole rents of the mortgaged cottages would not
cover her interest. The promise of the Corporation Improvement Scheme
had only partially reassured her; it seemed too good to be true. She
could not believe without seeing. She now saw, suddenly, blindingly.
And her relief, beneath that stately deportment of hers, was pathetic
in its simple intensity. It would have moved John Batchgrew, had he
been in any degree susceptible to the thrill of pathos.
"I doubt if I've seen so much money all at once before," said Mrs.
Maldon, smiling weakly.
"Happen not!" said Mr. Batchgrew, proud, with insincere casualness,
and he added in exactly the same tone: "I'm leaving it with ye
Mrs. Maldon was aghast, but she feigned sprightliness as she
"You're not leaving all this money here to-night?"
"I am," said the trustee. "That's what I came for. Evans's were three
hours late in completing, and the bank was closed. I have but just got
it. I'm not going home." (He lived eight miles off, near Axe.) "I've
got to go to a Church meeting at Red Cow, and I'm sleeping there.
John's Ernest is calling here for me presently. I don't fancy driving
over them moors with near a thousand pun in my pocket--and colliers
out on strike--not at my age, missis! If you don't know what Red Cow
is, I reckon I do. It's your money. Put it in a drawer and say nowt,
and I'll fetch it to-morrow. What'll happen to it, think ye, seeing
as it hasn't got legs?" He spoke with the authority of a trustee. And
Mrs. Maldon felt that her reputation for sensible equanimity was worth
preserving. So she said bravely--
"I suppose it will be all right."
"Of course!" snapped the trustee patronizingly.
"But I must tell Rachel."
"Rachel? Rachel? Oh! _Her_! Why tell any one?" Mr. Batchgrew
sniffed very actively.
"Oh! I shouldn't be easy if I didn't tell Rachel," insisted Mrs.
Maldon with firmness.
Before the trustee could protest anew she had rung the bell.
It was another and an apronless Rachel that entered the room, a Rachel
transformed, magnificent in light green frock with elaborate lacy
ruchings and ornamentations, and the waist at the new fashionable
height. Her ruddy face and hands were fresh from water, her hair very
glossy and very neat: she was in high array. This festival attire
Mrs. Maldon now fully beheld for the first time. It, indeed, honoured
herself, for she had ordained a festive evening: but at the same
time she was surprised and troubled by it. As for Mr. Batchgrew, he
entirely ignored the vision. Stretched out in one long inclined plane
from the back of his chair down to the brass fender, he contemplated
the fire, while picking his teeth with a certain impatience, and still
sniffing actively. The girl resented this disregard. But, though she
remained hostile to the grotesque old man with his fussy noises,
the mantle of Mrs. Maldon's moral protection was now over Councillor
Batchgrew, and Rachel's mistrustful scorn of him had lost some of its
Mrs. Maldon gave a hesitating cough.
"Yes, Mrs. Maldon?" said Rachel questioningly deferential, and smiling
faintly into Mrs. Maldon's apprehensive eyes. Against the background
of the aged pair she seemed dramatically young, lithe, living, and
wistful. She was nervous, but she thought with strong superiority:
"What are those old folks planning together? Why do they ring for me?"
At length Mrs. Maldon proceeded--"I think I ought to tell you, dear,
Mr. Batchgrew is obliged to leave this money in my charge to-night."
"What money?" asked Rachel.
Mr. Batchgrew put in sharply, drawing up his legs--"This!... Here,
young miss! Step this way, if ye please. I'll count it. Ten, twenty,
thirty--" With new lickings and clickings he counted the notes
all over again. "There!" When he had finished his pride had become
"Oh, my word!" murmured Rachel, awed and astounded.
"It is rather a lot, isn't it?" said Mrs. Maldon, with a timid laugh.
At once fascinated and repelled, the two women looked at the money as
at a magic. It represented to Mrs. Maldon a future free from financial
embarrassment; it represented to Rachel more than she could earn in
half a century at her wage of eighteen pounds a year, an unimaginable
source of endless gratifications; and yet the mere fact that it was
to stay in the house all night changed it for them into something dire
and formidable, so that it inspired both of them--the ancient dame and
the young girl--with naught but a mystic dread. Mr. Batchgrew eyed the
affrighted creatures with satisfaction, appearing to take a perverse
pleasure in thus imposing upon them the horrid incubus.
"I was only thinking of burglars;" said Mrs. Maldon apologetically.
"There've been so many burglaries lately--" She ceased, uncertain of
her voice. The forced lightness of her tone was almost tragic.
"There won't be any more," said Mr. Batchgrew condescendingly.
"Why?" demanded Mrs. Maldon with an eager smile of hope. "Have they
caught them, then? Has Superintendent Snow--"
"They have their hands on them. To-morrow there'll be some arrests,"
Mr. Batchgrew answered, exuding authority. For he was not merely a
Town Councillor, he was brother-in-law to the Superintendent of the
Borough Police. "Caught 'em long ago if th' county police had been a
bit more reliable!"
"Oh!" Mrs. Maldon breathed happily. "I knew it couldn't be Mr. Snow's
fault. I felt sure of that. I'm so glad."
And Rachel also was conscious of gladness. In fact, it suddenly seemed
plain to both women that no burglar, certain of arrest on the morrow,
would dare to invade the house of a lady whose trustee had married
the sister of the Superintendent of Police. The house was invisibly
"And we mustn't forget we shall have a man sleeping here to-night,"
said Rachel confidently.
"Of course! Of course! I was quite overlooking that!" exclaimed Mrs.
Mr. Batchgrew threw a curt and suspicious question--"What man?"
"My nephew Julian--I should say my grand-nephew." Mrs. Maldon's proud
tone rebuked the strange tone of Mr. Batchgrew. "It is his birthday.
He and Louis are having supper with me. And Julian is staying the
"Well, if you take my advice, missis, ye'll say nowt to nobody. Lock
the brass up in a drawer in that wardrobe of yours, and keep a still
tongue in your head."
"Perhaps you're right," Mrs. Maldon agreed--"as a matter of general
principle, I mean. And it might make Julian uneasy."
"Take it and lock it up," Mr. Batchgrew repeated.
"I don't know about my wardrobe--" Mrs. Maldon began.
"Anywhere!" Mr. Batchgrew stopped her.
"Only," said Rachel with careful gentleness, "please don't forget
where you _have_ put it."
But her precaution of manner was futile. Twice within a minute she had
employed the word "forget." Twice was too often. Mrs. Maldon's memory
was most capriciously uncertain. Its lapses astonished sometimes even
herself. And naturally she was sensitive on the point. She nourished
the fiction, and she expected others to nourish it, that her memory
was quite equal to younger memories. Indeed, she would admit every
symptom of old age save an unreliable memory.
Composing a dignified smile, she said with reproving blandness--
"I am not in the habit of forgetting where I put valuables, Rachel."
And her prominently veined fingers, clasping the notes as a
preliminary to hiding them away, seemed in their nervous primness to
be saying to Rachael: "I have deep confidence in you, and I think that
to-night I have shown it. But oblige me by not presuming. I am Mrs.
Maldon and you are Rachel. After all, I have not yet known you for a
A very loud rasping noise, like a vicious menace, sounded from the
street, shivering instantaneously the delicate placidity of Mrs.
Maldon's home. Mrs. Maldon gave a start.
"That'll be John's Ernest with the car," said Mr. Batchgrew, amused;
and he began to get up from the chair. As soon as he was on his feet
his nose grew active again. "You've nothing to be afraid of, missis,"
he added in a tone roughly reassuring and good-natured.
"Oh no! Of course not!" concurred Mrs. Maldon, further enforcing
intrepidity on herself. "Of course not! I only just mentioned burglars
because they're so much in the paper." And she stooped to pick up the
_Signal_ and folded it carefully, as if to prove that her mind
was utterly collected.
Councillor Batchgrew, leaning over the table, peered into various
vessels in search of his gloves. At length he took them finickingly
from the white slop-basin as though fishing them out of a puddle. He
began to put them on, and then, half-way through the process, abruptly
shook hands with Mrs. Maldon.
"Then you'll call in the morning?" she asked.
"Aye! Ye may count on me. I'll relieve ye on [of] it afore ten
o'clock. It'll be on my way to Hanbridge, ye see."
Mrs. Maldon ceremoniously accompanied her trustee as far as the
sitting-room door, where she recommended him to the careful attention
of Rachel. No woman in the Five Towns could take leave of a guest
with more impressive dignity than old Mrs. Maldon, whose fine Southern
accent always gave a finish to her farewells. In the lobby Mr.
Batchgrew kept Rachel waiting with his overcoat in her outstretched
hands while he completed the business of his gloves. As, close behind
him, she coaxed his stiff arms into the overcoat, she suddenly
felt that after all he was nothing but a decrepit survival; and his
offensiveness seemed somehow to have been increased--perhaps by the
singular episode of the gloves and the slop-basin. She opened the
front door, and without a word to her he departed down the steps.
Two lamps like lighthouses glared fiercely along the roadway, dulling
the municipal gas and giving to each loose stone on the macadam a
long shadow. In the gloom behind the lamps the low form of an open
automobile showed, and a dim, cloaked figure beside it. A boyish voice
said with playful bullying sharpness, above the growling, irregular
pulsation of the engine--"Here, grandad, you've got to put this on."
"Have I?" demanded uncertainly the thick, heavy voice of the old man.
"Yes, you have--on the top of your other coat. If I don't look after
you I shall get myself into a row!... Here, let me put your fist in
the armhole. It's your blooming glove that stops it.... There! Now, up
with you, grandad!... All right! I've got you. I sha'n't drop you."
A door snapped to; then another. The car shot violently forward,
with shrieks and a huge buzzing noise, and leaped up the slope of the
street. Rachel, still in the porch, could see Mr. Batchgrew's head
wagging rather helplessly from side to side, just above the red speck
of the tail-lamp. Then the whole vision was swiftly blotted out, and
the warning shrieks of the invisible car grew fainter on the way to
Red Cow. It pleased Rachel to think of the old man being casually
bullied and shaken by John's Ernest.
She leaned forward and gazed down the street, not up it. When she
turned into the house Mrs. Maldon was descending the stairs, which,
being in a line with the lobby, ended opposite the front door. Judging
by the fixity of the old lady's features, Rachel decided that she was
not yet quite pardoned for the slight she had put upon the memory of
her employer. So she smiled pleasantly.
"Don't close the front door, dear," said Mrs. Maldon stiffly. "There's
some one there."
Rachel looked round. She had actually, in sheer absent-mindedness
or negligence or deafness, been shutting the door in the face of the
"Oh, dear! I do hope--!" Mrs. Maldon muttered as she hastily tugged at
Having read the message, she passed it on to Rachel, and at the
same time forgivingly responded to her smile. The excitement of the
telegram had sufficed to dissipate Mrs. Maldon's trifling resentment.
"Train hour late. Julian."
The telegraph boy was dismissed: "No answer, thank you."
During the next half-hour excitement within the dwelling gradually
increased. It grew out of nothing--out of Mrs. Maldon's admirable calm
in receiving the message of the telegram--until it affected like an
atmospheric disturbance the ground floor--the sitting-room where
Mrs. Maldon was spending nervous force in the effort to preserve an
absolutely tranquil mind, the kitchen where Rachel was "putting back"
the supper, the lobby towards which Rachel's eye and Mrs. Maiden's
ear were strained to catch any sign of an arrival, and the unlighted,
unused room behind the sitting-room which seemed to absorb and even
intensify the changing moods of the house.
The fact was that Mrs. Maldon, in her relief at finding that Julian
was not killed or maimed for life in a railway accident, had begun by
treating a delay of one hour in all her arrangements for the evening
as a trifle. But she had soon felt that, though a trifle, it was
really very upsetting and annoying. It gave birth to irrational yet
real forebodings as to the non-success of her little party. It
meant that the little party had "started badly." And then her other
grand-nephew, Louis Fores, did not arrive. He had been invited for
supper at seven, and should have appeared at five minutes to seven
at the latest. But at five minutes to seven he had not come; nor at
seven, nor at five minutes past--he who had barely a quarter of a
mile to walk! There was surely a fate against the party! And Rachel
strangely persisted in not leaving the kitchen! Even after Mrs. Maldon
had heard her fumbling for an interminable time with the difficult
window on the first-floor landing, she went back to the kitchen
instead of presenting herself to her expectant mistress.
At last Rachel entered the sitting-room, faintly humming an air. Mrs.
Maldon thought that she looked self-conscious. But Mrs. Maldon also
was self-conscious, and somehow could not bring her lips to utter
the name of Louis Fores to Rachel. For the old lady had divined a
connection of cause and effect between Louis Fores and the apparition
of Rachel's superlative frock. And she did not like the connection; it
troubled her, and offended the extreme nicety of her social code.
There was a constrained silence, which was broken by the lobby clock
striking the first quarter after seven. This harsh announcement on the
part of the inhuman clock seemed to render the situation intolerable.
Fifteen minutes past seven, and Louis not come, and not a word of
comment thereon! Mrs. Maldon had to admit privately that she was in a
high state of agitation.
Then Rachel, bending delicately to sweep the hearth with the
brass-handled brush proper to it, remarked with an obvious affectation
"Your other guest's late too."
If Mrs. Maldon had not been able to speak his name, neither could
Rachel! Mrs. Maldon read with painful certainty all the girl's
"Yes, indeed!" said Mrs. Maldon.
"It's like as if what must be!" Rachel murmured, employing a local
phrase which Mrs. Maldon had ever contemned as meaningless and
"Fortunately it doesn't matter, as Julian is late too," said Mrs.
Maldon insincerely, for it was mattering very much. "But still--I
Rachel broke out upon her hesitation in a very startling manner--
"I'll just see if he's coming."
And she abruptly quitted the room, almost slamming the door.
Mrs. Maldon was dumbfounded. Scared and attentive, she listened in a
maze for the sound of the front door. She heard it open. But was it
possible that she heard also the creak of the gate? She sprang to the
bow window with surprising activity, and pulled aside a blind, one
inch.... There was Rachel tripping hatless and in her best frock
down the street! Inconceivable vision, affecting Mrs. Maldon with
palpitation! A girl so excellent, so lovable, so trustworthy, to be
guilty of the wanton caprice of a minx! Supposing Louis were to see
her, to catch her in the brazen act of looking for him! Mrs. Maldon
was grieved; and her gentle sorrow for Rachel's incalculable lapse was
so dignified, affectionate, and jealous for the good repute of human
nature that it mysteriously ennobled instead of degrading the young
Going down Bycars Lane amid the soft wandering airs of the September
night, Rachel had the delicious and exciting sensation of being
unyoked, of being at liberty for a space to obey the strong, free
common sense of youth instead of conforming to the outworn and
tiresome code of another age. Mrs. Maldon's was certainly a house that
put a strain on the nerves. It did not occur to Rachel that she was
doing aught but a very natural and proper thing. The non-appearance
of Louis Fores was causing disquiet, and her simple aim was to shorten
the period of anxiety. Nor did it occur to her that she was impulsive.
Something had to be done, and she had done something. Not much longer
could she have borne the suspense. All that day she had lived forward
towards supper-time, when Louis Fores would appear. Over and over
again she had lived right through the moment of opening the front door
for him at a little before seven o'clock. The moments between
seven o'clock and a quarter past had been a crescendo of torment,
intolerable at last. His lateness was inexplicable, and he was so
close to that not to look for him would have been ridiculous.
She was apprehensive, and yet she was obscurely happy in her fears.
The large, inviting, dangerous universe was about her--she had escaped
from the confining shelter of the house. And the night was about
her. It was not necessary for her to wear three coats, like the gross
Batchgrew, in order to protect herself from the night! She could go
forth into it with no precaution. She was young. Her vigorous and
confident body might challenge perils.
When she had proceeded a hundred yards she stopped and turned to look
back at the cluster of houses collectively called Bycars.
The distinctive bow-window of Mrs. Maldon's shone yellow. Within the
sacred room was still the old lady, sitting expectant, and trying to
interest herself in the paper. Strange thought!
Bycars Lane led in a north-easterly direction over the broad hill
whose ridge separates the lane from the moorlands honeycombed with
coal and iron mines. Above the ridge showed the fire and vapour of
the first mining villages, on the way to Red Cow, proof that not all
colliers were yet on strike. And above that pyrotechny hung the
moon. The municipal park, of which Bycars Lane was the north-western
boundary, lay in mysterious and forbidden groves behind its spiked
red wall and locked gates, and beyond it a bright tram-car was leaping
down from lamp to lamp of Moorthorne Road towards the town. Between
the masses of the ragged hedge on the north side of the lane there was
the thin gleam of Bycars Pool, lost in a vague, unoccupied region of
shawdrucks and dirty pasture--the rendezvous of skaters when the frost
held, Louis Fores had told her, and she had heard from another source
that he skated divinely. She could believe it, too.
She resumed her way more slowly. She had only stopped because, though
burned with the desire to see him, she yet had an instinct to postpone
the encounter. She was almost minded to return. But she went on. The
town was really very near. The illuminated clock of the Town Hall
had dominion over it; the golden shimmer above the roofs to the left
indicated the electrical splendour of the new Cinema in Moorthorne
Road next to the new Primitive Methodist Chapel. He had told her about
that, too. In two minutes, in less than two minutes, she was among
houses again, and approaching the corner of Friendly Street. He would
come from the Moorthorne Road end of Friendly Street. She would peep
round the corner of Friendly Street to see if he was coming....
But before she reached the corner, her escapade suddenly presented
itself to her as childish madness, silly, inexcusable; and she thought
self-reproachfully, "How impulsive I am!" and sharply turned back
towards Mrs. Maldon's house, which seemed to be about ten miles off.
A moment later she heard hurried footfalls behind her on the narrow
brick pavement, and, after one furtive glance over her shoulder, she
quickened her pace. Louis Fores in all his elegance was pursuing her!
Nothing had happened to him. He was not ill; he was merely a little
late! After all, she would sit by his side at the supper-table! She
had a spasm of shame that was excruciating. But at the same time she
was wildly glad. And already this inebriating illusion of an ingenuous
girl concerning a common male was helping to shape monstrous events.
Louis Fores was late at his grand-aunt's because he had by a certain
preoccupation, during a period of about an hour, been rendered
oblivious of the passage of time. The real origin of the affair went
back nearly sixty years, to an indecorous episode in the history of
the Maldon family.
At that date--before Mrs. Maldon had even met Austin Maldon, her
future husband--Austin's elder brother Athelstan, who was well
established as an earthenware broker in London, had a conjugal
misfortune, which reached its climax in the Matrimonial Court, and
left the injured and stately Athelstan with an incomplete household,
a spoiled home, and the sole care of two children, a boy and a girl.
These children were, almost of necessity, clumsily brought up. The
girl married the half-brother of a Lieutenant-General Fores, and Louis
Fores was their son. The boy married an American girl, and had issue,
Julian Maldon and some daughters.
At the age of eighteen, Louis Fores, amiable, personable, and an
orphan, was looking for a career. He had lived in the London suburb of
Barnes, and under the influence of a father whose career had chiefly
been to be the stepbrother of Lieutenant-General Fores. He was in
full possession of the conventionally snobbish ideals of the suburb,
reinforced by more than a tincture of the stupendous and unsurpassed
snobbishness of the British Army. He had no money, and therefore the
liberal professions and the higher division of the Civil Service were
closed to him. He had the choice of two activities: he might tout for
wine, motor-cars, or mineral-waters on commission (like his father),
or he might enter a bank; his friends were agreed that nothing else
was conceivable. He chose the living grave. It is not easy to enter
the living grave, but, august influences aiding, he entered it with
_eclat_ at a salary of seventy pounds a year, and it closed
over him. He would have been secure till his second death had he not
defiled the bier. The day of judgment occurred, the grave opened, and
he was thrown out with ignominy, but ignominy unpublished. The august
influences, by simple cash, and for their own sakes, had saved him
from exposure and a jury.
In order to get rid of him his protectors spoke well of him,
emphasizing his many good qualities, and he was deported to the Five
Towns (properly enough, since his grandfather had come thence)
and there joined the staff of Batchgrew & Sons, thanks to the kind
intervention of Mrs. Maldon. At the end of a year John Batchgrew told
him to go, and told Mrs. Maldon that her grand-nephew had a fault.
Mrs. Maldon was very sorry. At this juncture Louis Fores, without
intending to do so, would certainly have turned Mrs. Maldon's last
years into a tragedy, had he not in the very nick of time inherited
about a thousand pounds. He was rehabilitated. He "had money" now. He
had a fortune; he had ten thousand pounds; he had any sum you like,
according to the caprice of rumour. He lived on his means for a
little time, frequenting the Municipal School of Art at the Wedgwood
Institution at Bursley, and then old Batchgrew had casually suggested
to Mrs. Maldon that there ought to be an opening for him with Jim
Horrocleave, who was understood to be succeeding with his patent
special processes for earthenware manufacture. Mr. Horrocleave, a man
with a chin, would not accept him for a partner, having no desire to
share profits with anybody; but on the faith of his artistic tendency
and Mrs. Maldon's correct yet highly misleading catalogue of his
virtues, he took him at a salary, in return for which Louis was to be
the confidential employee who could and would do anything, including
And now Louis was the step-nephew of a Lieutenant-General, a man
of private means and of talent, and a trusted employee with a fine
wage--all under one skin! He shone in Bursley, and no wonder! He was
very active at Horrocleave's. He not only designed shapes for vases,
and talked intimately with Jim Horrocleave about fresh projects, but
he controlled the petty cash. The expenditure of petty cash grew, as
was natural in a growing business. Mr. Horrocleave soon got accustomed
to that, and apparently gave it no thought, signing cheques instantly
upon request. But on the very day of Mrs. Maldon's party, after
signing a cheque and before handing it to Louis, he had somewhat
lengthily consulted his private cash-book, and, as he handed over
the cheque, had said: "Let's have a squint at the petty-cash book
to-morrow morning, Louis." He said it gruffly, but he was a gruff man.
He left early. He might have meant anything or nothing. Louis could
not decide which; or rather, from five o'clock to seven he had come to
alternating decisions every five minutes.
It was just about at the time when Louis ought to have been removing
his paper cuff-shields in order to start for Mrs. Maldon's that he
discovered the full extent of his debt to the petty-cash box. He
sat alone at a rough and dirty desk in the inner room of the works
"office," surrounded by dust-covered sample vases and other vessels of
all shapes, sizes, and tints--specimens of Horrocleave's "Art Lustre
Ware," a melancholy array of ingenious ugliness that nevertheless
filled with pride its creators. He looked through a dirt-obscured
window and with unseeing gaze surveyed a muddy, littered quadrangle
whose twilight was reddened by gleams from the engine-house. In this
yard lay flat a sign that had been blown down from the facade of the
manufactory six months before: "Horrocleave. Art Lustre Ware."
Within the room was another sign, itself fashioned in lustre-ware:
"Horrocleave. Art Lustre Ware." And the envelopes and paper and
bill-heads on the desk all bore the same legend: "Horrocleave. Art
He owed seventy-three pounds to the petty-cash box, and he was
startled and shocked. He was startled because for weeks past he had
refrained from adding up the columns of the cash-book--partly from
idleness and partly from a desire to remain in ignorance of his own
doings. He had hoped for the best. He had faintly hoped that the
deficit would not exceed ten pounds, or twelve; he had been prepared
for a deficit of twenty-five, or even thirty. But seventy-three really
shocked. Nay, it staggered. It meant that in addition to his salary,
some thirty shillings a week had been mysteriously trickling through
the incurable hole in his pocket. Not to mention other debts! He well
knew that to Shillitoe alone (his admirable tailor) he owed eighteen
It may be asked how a young bachelor, with private means and a
fine salary, living in a district where prices are low and social
conventions not costly, could have come to such a pass. The answer is
that Louis had no private means, and that his salary was not fine. The
thousand pounds had gradually vanished, as a thousand pounds will, in
the refinements of material existence and in the pursuit of happiness.
His bank-account had long been in abeyance. His salary was three
pounds a week. Many a member of the liberal professions--many a
solicitor, for example--brings up a family on three pounds a week in
the provinces. But for a Lieutenant-General's nephew, who had once had
a thousand pounds in one lump, three pounds a week was inadequate. As
a fact, Louis conceived himself "Art Director" of Horrocleave's, and
sincerely thought that as such he was ill-paid. Herein was one of his
private excuses for eccentricity with the petty cash. It may also be
asked what Louis had to show for his superb expenditure. The answer
With the seventy-three pounds desolatingly clear in his mind, he
quitted his desk in order to reconnoitre the outer and larger portion
of the counting-house. He went as far as the archway, and saw black
smoke being blown downwards from heaven into Friendly Street. A
policeman was placidly regarding the smoke as he strolled by. And
Louis, though absolutely sure that the officer would not carry out his
plain duty of summoning Horrocleave's for committing a smoke-nuisance,
did not care for the spectacle of the policeman. He returned to the
inner office, and locked the door. The "staff" and the "hands" had all
gone, save one or two piece-workers in the painting-shop across the
The night watchman, fresh from bed, was moving fussily about the yard.
He nodded with respect to Louis through the grimy window. Louis lit
the gas, and spread a newspaper in front of the window by way of
blind. And then he began a series of acts on the petty-cash book. The
office clock indicated twenty past six. He knew that time was short,
but he had a natural gift for the invention and execution of these
acts, and he calculated that under half an hour would suffice
for them. But when he next looked at the clock, the acts being
accomplished, one hour had elapsed; it had seemed to him more like a
quarter of an hour. Yet as blotting-paper cannot safely be employed in
such delicate calligraphic feats as those of Louis', even an hour was
not excessive for what he had done. An operator clumsier, less cool,
less cursory, more cautious than himself might well have spent half a
night over the job. He locked up the book, washed his hands and face
with remarkable celerity in a filthy lavatory basin, brushed his hair,
removed his cuff-shields, changed his coat, and fled at speed, leaving
the key of the office with the watchman.
"I suppose the old lady was getting anxious?" said he brightly (but
in a low tone so that the old lady should not hear), as he shook hands
with Rachel in the lobby. He had recognized her in front of him up the
lane--had, in fact, nearly overtaken her; and she was standing at the
open door when he mounted the steps. She had had just time to prove
to Mrs. Maldon, by a "He's coming" thrown through the sitting-room
doorway, that she had not waited for Louis Fores and walked up with
"Yes," Rachel replied in the same tone, most deceitfully leaving him
under the false impression that it was the old lady's anxiety that had
sent her out. She had, then, emerged scathless in reputation from the
The house was animated by the arrival of Louis; at once it seemed to
live more keenly when he had crossed the threshold. And Louis found
pleasure in the house--in the welcoming aspect of its interior, in
Rachel's evident excited gladness at seeing him, in her honest and
agreeable features, and in her sheer girlishness. A few minutes
earlier he had been in the sordid and dreadful office. Now he was in
another and a cleaner, prettier world. He yielded instantly and fully
to its invitation, for he had the singular faculty of being able to
cast off care like a garment. He felt sympathetic towards women, and
eager to employ for their contentment all the charm which he knew
he possessed. He gave himself, generously, in every gesture and
"Office, auntie, office!" he exclaimed, elegantly entering the
parlour. "Sack-cloth! Ashes! Hallo! where's Julian? Is he late too?"
When he had received the news about Julian Maldon he asked to see
the telegram, and searched out its place of origin, and drew forth
a pocket time-table, and remarked in a wise way that he hoped Julian
would "make the connection" at Derby. Lastly he predicted the precise
minute at which Julian "ought" to be knocking at the front door. And
both women felt their ignorant, puzzled inferiority in these recondite
matters of travel, and the comfort of having an omniscient male in the
Then slightly drawing up his dark blue trousers with an accustomed
movement, he carefully sat down on the Chesterfield, and stroked
his soft black moustache (which was estimably long for a fellow of
twenty-three) and patted his black hair.
"Rachel, you didn't fasten that landing window, after all!" said Mrs.
Maldon, looking over Louis' head at the lady companion, who hesitated
modestly near the door. "I've tried, but I couldn't."
"Neither could I, Mrs. Maldon," said Rachel. "I was thinking perhaps
Mr. Fores wouldn't mind--"
She did not explain that her failure to fasten the window had been
more or less deliberate, since, while actually tugging at the window,
she had been visited by the sudden delicious thought: "How nice it
would be to ask Louis Fores to do this hard thing for me!"
And now she had asked him.
"Certainly!" Louis jumped to his feet, and off he went upstairs.
Most probably, if the sudden delicious thought had not skipped into
Rachel's brain, he would never have made that critical ascent to the
A gas-jet burned low on the landing.
"Let's have a little light on the subject," he cheerfully muttered to
himself, as he turned on the gas to the full.
Then in the noisy blaze of yellow and blue light he went to the window
and with a single fierce wrench he succeeded in pulling the catch into
position. He was proud of his strength. It pleased him to think of the
weakness of women; it pleased him to anticipate the impressed thanks
of the weak women for this exertion of his power on their behalf.
"Have you managed it so soon?" his aunt would exclaim, and he would
answer in a carefully offhand way, "Of course. Why not?"
He was about to descend, but he remembered that he must not leave the
gas at full. With his hand on the tap, he glanced perfunctorily around
the little landing. The door of Mrs. Maldon's bedroom was in front of
him, at right angles to the window. By the door, which was ajar,
stood a cane-seated chair. Underneath the chair he perceived a whitish
package or roll that seemed to be out of place there on the floor. He
stooped and picked it up. And as the paper rustled peculiarly in his
hand, he could feel his heart give a swift bound. He opened the roll.
It consisted of nothing whatever but bank-notes. He listened intently,
with ear cocked and rigid limbs, and he could just catch the soothing
murmur of women's voices in the parlour beneath the reverberating,
solemn pulse of the lobby clock.
Louis Fores had been intoxicated into a condition of poesy. He was
deliciously incapable of any precise thinking; he could not formulate
any theory to account for the startling phenomenon of a roll of
bank-notes loose under a chair on a first-floor landing of his
great-aunt's house; he could not even estimate the value of the
roll--he felt only that it was indefinitely prodigious. But he had the
most sensitive appreciation of the exquisite beauty of those pieces of
paper. They were not merely beautiful because they stood for delight
and indulgence, raising lovely visions of hosiers' and jewellers'
shops and the night interiors of clubs and restaurants--raising one
clear vision of himself clasping a watch-bracelet on the soft arm of
Rachel who had so excitingly smiled upon him a moment ago. They were
beautiful in themselves; the aspect and very texture of them were
beautiful--surpassing pictures and fine scenery. They were the most
poetic things in the world. They transfigured the narrow, gaslit
first-floor landing of his great-aunt's house into a secret and
unearthly grove of bliss. He was drunk with quivering emotion.
And then, as he gazed at the divine characters printed in sable on the
rustling whiteness, he was aware of a stab of ugly, coarse pain. Up to
the instant of beholding those bank-notes he had been convinced that
his operations upon the petty-cash book would be entirely successful
and that the immediate future of Horrocleave's was assured of
tranquillity; he had been blandly certain that Horrocleave held no
horrid suspicion against him, and that even if Horrocleave's pate
did conceal a dark thought, it would be conjured at once away by the
superficial reasonableness of the falsified accounts. But now his mind
was terribly and inexplicably changed, and it seemed to him impossible
to gull the acute and mighty Horrocleave. Failure, exposure, disgrace,
ruin, seemed inevitable--and also intolerable. It was astonishing
that he should have deceived himself into an absurd security. The
bank-notes, by some magic virtue which they possessed, had opened
his eyes to the truth. And they presented themselves as absolutely
indispensable to him. They had sprung from naught, they belonged
to nobody, they existed without a creative cause in the material
world--and they were indispensable to him! Could it be conceived that
he should lose his high and brilliant position in the town, that two
policemen should hustle him into the black van, that the gates of
a prison should clang behind him? It could not be conceived. It was
monstrously inconceivable.... The bank-notes ... he saw them wavy, as
through a layer of hot air.
A heavy knock on the front door below shook him and the floor and the
walls. He heard the hurried feet of Rachel, the opening of the door,
and Julian's harsh, hoarse voice. Julian, then, was not quite an hour
late, after all. The stir in the lobby seemed to be enormous, and very
close to him; Mrs. Maldon had come forth from the parlour to greet
Julian on his birthday.... Louis stuck the bank-notes into the side
pocket of his coat. And as it were automatically his mood underwent a
change, violent and complete. "I'll teach the old lady to drop notes
all over the place," he said to himself. "I'll just teach her!" And
he pictured his triumph as a wise male when, during the course of the
feast, his great-aunt should stumble on her loss and yield to senile
feminine agitation, and he should remark superiorly, with elaborate
calm: "Here is your precious money, auntie. A good thing it was I and
not burglars who discovered it. Let this be a lesson to you!... Where
was it? It was on the landing carpet, if you please! That's where it
was!" And the nice old creature's pathetic relief!
As he went jauntily downstairs there remained nothing of his mood of
intoxication except a still thumping heart.
The dramatic moment of the birthday feast came nearly at the end of
the meal when Mrs. Maldon, having in mysterious silence disappeared
for a space to the room behind, returned with due pomp bearing a
parcel in her dignified hands. During her brief absence Louis, Rachel,
and Julian--hero of the night--had sat mute and somewhat constrained
round the debris of the birthday pudding. The constraint was no doubt
due partly to Julian's characteristic and notorious grim temper, and
partly to mere anticipation of a solemn event.
Julian Maldon in particular was self-conscious. He hated intensely
to be self-conscious, and his feeling towards every witness of his
self-consciousness partook always of the homicidal. Were it not
that civilization has the means to protect itself, Julian might have
murdered defenceless aged ladies and innocent young girls for the
simple offence of having seen him blush.
He was a perfect specimen of a throw-back to original ancestry. He had
been born in London, of an American mother, and had spent the greater
part of his life in London. Yet London and his mother seemed to
count for absolutely nothing at all in his composition. At the age of
seventeen his soul, quitting the exile of London, had come to the
Five Towns with a sigh of relief as if at the assuagement of a long
nostalgia, and had dropped into the district as into a socket. In
three months he was more indigenous than a native. Any experienced
observer who now chanced at a week-end to see him board the Manchester
express at Euston would have been able to predict from his appearance
that he would leave the train at Knype. He was an undersized man, with
a combative and suspicious face. He regarded the world with crafty
pugnacity from beneath frowning eyebrows. His expression said: "Woe
betide the being who tries to get the better of me!" His expression
said: "Keep off!" His expression said: "I am that I am. Take me
or leave me, but preferably leave me. I loathe fuss, pretence,
flourishes--any and every form of damned nonsense."
He had an excellent heart, but his attitude towards it was the
attitude of his great-grandmother towards her front parlour--he used
it as little as possible, and kept it locked up like a shame. In
brief, he was more than a bit of a boor. And boorishness being his
chief fault, he was quite naturally proud of it, counted it for
the finest of all qualities, and scorned every manifestation of its
opposite. To prove his inward sincerity he deemed it right to flout
any form of external grace--such as politeness, neatness, elegance,
compliments, small-talk, smooth words, and all ceremonial whatever. He
would have died in torment sooner than kiss. He was averse even from
shaking hands, and when he did shake hands he produced a carpenter's
vice, crushed flesh and bone together, and flung the intruding pulp
away. His hat was so heavy on his head that only by an exhausting
and supreme effort could he raise it to a woman, and after the odious
accident he would feel as humiliated as a fox-terrier after a bath. By
the kind hazard of fate he had never once encountered his great-aunt
in the street. He was superb in enmity--a true hero. He would quarrel
with a fellow and say, curtly, "I'll never speak to you again"; and
he never would speak to that fellow again. Were the last trump to blow
and all the British Isles to be submerged save the summit of Snowdon,
and he and that fellow to find themselves alone and safe together on
the peak, he could still be relied upon never to speak to that fellow
again. Thus would he prove that he was a man of his word and that
there was no nonsense about him.
Strange though it may appear to the thoughtless, he was not
disliked--much less ostracised. Codes differ. He conformed to one
which suited the instincts of some thirty thousand other adult
males in the Five Towns. Two strapping girls in the warehouse of
his manufactory at Knype quarrelled over him in secret as the Prince
Charming of those parts. Yet he had never addressed them except to
inform them that if they didn't mind their p's and q's he would have
them flung off the "bank" [manufactory]. Rachel herself had not yet
begun to be prejudiced against him.
This monster of irascible cruelty regarded himself as a middle-aged
person. But he was only twenty-five that day, and he did not look
more, either, despite a stiff, strong moustache. He too, like Louis
and Rachel, had the gestures of youth--the unconsidered, lithe
movements of limb, the wistful, unteachable pride of his age, the
touching self-confidence. Old Mrs. Maldon was indeed old among them.
She sat down in all her benevolent stateliness and with a slightly
irritating deliberation undid the parcel, displaying a flattish
leather case about seven inches by four, which she handed formally to
Julian Maldon, saying as she did so--
"From your old auntie, my dear boy, with her loving wishes. You have
now lived just a quarter of a century."
And as Julian, awkwardly grinning, fumbled with the spring-catch of
the case, she was aware of having accomplished a great and noble act
of surrender. She hoped the best from it. In particular, she hoped
that she had saved the honour of her party and put it at last on a
secure footing of urbane convivial success. For that a party of hers
should fail in giving pleasure to every member of it was a menace to
her legitimate pride. And so far fate had not been propitious. The
money in the house had been, and was, on her mind. Then the lateness
of the guests had disturbed her. And then Julian had aggrieved her by
a piece of obstinacy very like himself. Arriving straight from a train
journey, he had wanted to wash. But he would not go to the specially
prepared bedroom, where a perfect apparatus awaited him. No, he must
needs take off his jacket in the back room and roll up his sleeves and
stamp into the scullery and there splash and rub like a stableman, and
wipe himself on the common rough roller-towel. He said he preferred
the "sink." (Offensive word! He would not even say "slop-stone," which
was the proper word. He said "sink," and again "sink.")
And then, when the meal finally did begin Mrs. Maldon's serviette
and silver serviette-ring had vanished. Impossible to find them! Mr.
Batchgrew had of course horribly disarranged the table, and in the
upset the serviette and ring might have fallen unnoticed into the
darkness beneath the table. But no search could discover them. Had
the serviette and ring ever been on the table at all? Had Rachael
perchance forgotten them? Rachael was certain that she had put them
on the table. She remembered casting away a soiled serviette and
replacing it with a clean one in accordance with Mrs. Maldon's command
for the high occasion. She produced the soiled serviette in proof.
Moreover, the ring was not in the serviette drawer of the sideboard.
Renewed search was equally sterile.... At one moment Mrs. Maldon
thought that she herself had seen the serviette and ring on the
table early in the evening; but at the next she thought she had not.
Conceivably Mr. Batchgrew had taken them in mistake. Yes, assuredly,
he had taken them in mistake--somehow! And yet it was inconceivable
that he had taken a serviette and ring in mistake. In mistake for
Mystery! Excessively disconcerting for an old lady! In the end Rachel
provided another clean serviette, and the meal commenced. But Mrs.
Maldon had not been able to "settle down" in an instant. The wise,
pitying creatures in their twenties considered that it was absurd for
her to worry herself about such a trifle. But was it a trifle? It was
rather a denial of natural laws, a sinister miracle. Serviette-rings
cannot walk, nor fly, nor be annihilated. And further, she had used
that serviette-ring for more than twenty years. However, the hostess
in her soon triumphed over the foolish old lady, and taken the head of
the board with aplomb.
And indeed aplomb had been required. For the guests behaved
strangely--unless it was that the hostess was in a nervous mood for
fancying trouble! Julian Maldon was fidgety and preoccupied. And Louis
himself--usually a model guest--was also fidgety and preoccupied. As
for Rachel, the poor girl had only too obviously lost her head about
Louis. Mrs. Maldon had never seen anything like it, never!
Julian, having opened the case, disclosed twin brier pipes,
silver-mounted, with alternative stems of various lengths and diverse
mouthpieces--all reposing on soft couches of fawn-tinted stuff, with
a crimson, silk-lined lid to serve them for canopy. A rich and costly
array! Everybody was impressed, even startled. For not merely was the
gift extremely handsome--it was more than a gift; it symbolized the
end of an epoch in those lives. Mrs. Maldon had been no friend of
tobacco. She had lukewarmly permitted cigarettes, which Louis smoked,
smoking naught else. But cigars she had discouraged, and pipes she
simply would not have! Now, Julian smoked nothing but a pipe. Hence
in his great-aunt's parlour he had not smoked; in effect he had been
forbidden to smoke there. The theory that a pipe was vulgar had been
stiffly maintained in that sacred parlour. In the light of these facts
did not Mrs. Maldon's gift indeed shine as a great and noble act
of surrender? Was it not more than a gift, and entitled to stagger
beholders? Was it not a sublime proof that the earth revolves and the
Mrs. Maldon was as susceptible as any one to the drama of the moment,
perhaps more than any one. She thrilled and became happy as Julian
in silence minutely examined the pipes. She had taken expert advice
before purchasing, and she was tranquil as to the ability of the pipes
to withstand criticism. They bore the magic triple initials of the
first firm of brier-pipe makers in the world--initials as famous and
as welcome on the plains of Hindustan as in the Home Counties or the
frozen zone. She gazed round the table with increasing satisfaction.
Louis, who was awkwardly fixed with regard to the light, the shadow
of his bust falling always across his plate, had borne that real
annoyance with the most charming good-humour. He was a delight to the
eye; he had excellent qualities, especially social qualities. Rachel
sat opposite to the hostess--an admirable girl in most ways,
a splendid companion, and a sound cook. The meal had been
irreproachable, and in the phrase of the _Signal_ "ample justice
had been done" to it. Julian was on the hostess's left, with his
back to the window and to the draught. A good boy, a sterling boy, if
peculiar! And there they were all close together, intimate, familiar,
mutually respecting; and the perfect parlour was round about them: a
domestic organism, honest, dignified, worthy, more than comfortable.
And she, Elizabeth Maldon, in her old age, was the head of it, and the
fount of good things.
"Thank ye!" ejaculated Julian, with a queer look askance at his
benefactor. "Thank ye, aunt!"
It was all he could get out of his throat, and it was all that was
expected of him. He hated to give thanks--and he hated to be thanked.
The grandeur of the present flattered him. Nevertheless he regarded it
as essentially absurd in its pretentiousness. The pipes were A1, but
could a man carry about a huge contraption like that? All a man needed
was an A1 pipe, which, if he had any sense, he would carry loose in
his pocket with his pouch--and be hanged to morocco cases and silk
"Stoke up, my hearties!" said Louis, drawing forth a gun-metal
cigarette-case, which was chained to his person by a kind of cable.
Undoubtedly the case of pipes represented for Julian a triumph over
Louis, or, at least, justice against Louis. For obvious reasons Julian
had not quarrelled with a rich and affectionate great-aunt because she
had accorded to Louis the privilege of smoking in her parlour what he
preferred to smoke, while refusing a similar privilege to himself. But
he had resented the distinction. And his joy in the spectacular turn
of the wheel was vast. For that very reason he hid it with much care.
Why should he bubble over with gratitude for having been at last
treated fairly? It would be pitiful to do so. Leaving the case open
upon the table, he pulled a pouch and an old pipe from his pocket, and
began to fill the pipe. It was inexcusable, but it was like him--he
had to do it.
"But aren't you going to try one of the new ones?" asked Mrs. Maldon,
amiably but uncertainly.
"No," said he, with cold nonchalance. Upon nobody in the world had
the sweet magic of Mrs. Maldon's demeanour less influence than upon
himself. "Not now. I want to enjoy my smoke, and the first smoke out
of a new pipe is never any good."
It was very true, but far more wanton than true. Mrs. Maldon in her
ignorance could not appreciate the truth, but she could appreciate its
wantonness. She was wounded--silly, touchy old thing! She was wounded,
and she hid the wound.
Rachel flushed with ire against the boor.
"By the way," Mrs. Maldon remarked in a light, indifferent tone,
just as though the glory of the moment had not been suddenly rent and
shrivelled. "I didn't see your portmanteau in the back room just now,
Julian. Has any one carried it upstairs? I didn't hear any one go
"I didn't bring one, aunt," said Julian.
"I was forgetting to tell ye. I can't sleep here to-night. I'm off to
South Africa to-morrow, and I've got a lot of things to fix up at my
digs to-night." He lit the old pipe from a match which Louis passed to
"To South Africa?" murmured Mrs. Maldon, aghast. And she repeated,
"South Africa?" To her it was an incredible distance. It was not
a place--it was something on the map. Perhaps she had never
imaginatively realized that actual people did in fact go to South
Africa. "But this is the first I have heard of this!" she said.
Julian's extraordinary secretiveness always disturbed her.
"I only got the telegram about my berth this morning," said Julian,
rather sullenly on the defensive.
"Is it business?" Mrs. Maldon asked.
"You may depend it isn't pleasure, aunt," he answered, and shut his
lips tight on the pipe.
After a pause Mrs. Maldon tried again.
"Where do you sail from?"
There was another pause. Louis and Rachel exchanged a glance of
sympathetic dismay at the situation.
Mrs. Maldon then smiled with plaintive courage.
"Of course if you can't sleep here, you can't," said she benignly. "I
can see that. But we were quite counting on having a man in the house
to-night--with all these burglars about--weren't we, Rachel?" Her
grimace became, by an effort, semi-humorous.
Rachel diplomatically echoed the tone of Mrs. Maldon, but more
brightly, with a more frankly humorous smile--
"We were, indeed!"
But her smile was a masterpiece of duplicity, somewhat strange in a
girl so downright; for beneath it burned hotly her anger against the
"Well, there it is!" Julian gruffly and callously summed up the
situation, staring at the inside of his teacup.
"Propitious moment for getting a monopoly of door-knobs at the Cape, I
suppose?" said Louis quizzically. His cousin manufactured, among other
articles, white and jet door-knobs.
"No need for you to be so desperately funny!" snapped Julian, who
detested Louis' brand of facetiousness. It was the word "propitious"
that somehow annoyed him--it had a sarcastic flavour, and it was
"Louis all over."
"No offence, old man!" Louis magnanimously soothed him. "On the
contrary, many happy returns of the day." In social intercourse
the younger cousin's good-humour and suavity were practically
But Julian still scowled.
Rachel, to make a tactful diversion, rose and began to collect plates.
The meal was at an end, and for Mrs. Maldon it had closed in ignominy.
From her quarter of the table she pushed crockery towards Rachel with
a gesture of disillusion; the courage to smile had been but momentary.
She felt old--older than she had ever felt before. The young
generation presented themselves to her as almost completely enigmatic.
She admitted that they were foreign to her, that she could not
comprehend them at all. Each of the three at her table was entirely
free and independent--each could and did act according to his or her
whim, and none could say them nay. Such freedom seemed unreal. They
were children playing at life, and playing dangerously. Hundreds of
times, in conversation with her coevals, she had cheerfully protested
against the banal complaint that the world had changed of late years.
But now she felt grievously that the world was different--that it
had indeed deteriorated since her young days. She was fatigued by the
modes of thought of these youngsters, as a nurse or mother is fatigued
by too long a spell of the shrillness and the _naivete_ of a
family of infants. She wanted repose.... Was it conceivable that when,
with incontestable large-mindedness, she had given a case of pipes to
Julian, he should first put a slight on her gift and then, brusquely
leaving her in the lurch, announce his departure for South Africa,
with as much calm as though South Africa were in the next street?...
And the other two were guilty in other ways, perhaps more subtly, of
treason against forlorn old age.
And then Louis, in taking the slop-basin from her trembling
fingers, to pass it to Rachel, gave her one of his adorable, candid,
persuasive, sympathetic smiles. And lo! she was enheartened once more.
And she remembered that dignity and kindliness had been the watchwords
of her whole life, and that it would be shameful to relinquish the
struggle for an ideal at the very threshold of the grave. She began to
find excuses for Julian. The dear lad must have many business worries.
He was very young to be at the head of a manufacturing concern. He had
a remarkable brain--worthy of the family. Allowances must be made for
him. She must not be selfish.... And assuredly that serviette and ring
would reappear on the morrow.
"I'll take that out," said Louis, indicating the tray which Rachel
had drawn from concealment under the Chesterfield, and which was
now loaded. Mrs. Maldon employed an old and valued charwoman in the
mornings. Rachel accomplished all the rest of the housework herself,
including cookery, and she accomplished it with the stylistic
smartness of a self-respecting lady-help.
"Oh no!" said she. "I can carry it quite easily, thanks."
Louis insisted masculinely--
"I'll take that tray out."